Trump Appoints a Loyalist as ‘Border Czar’ in Latest Immigration Reshuffle

WASHINGTON — President Trump on Friday again shook up his immigration team, appointing a hard-liner to coordinate border policy from the White House and sending a message that he is redoubling his efforts to prevent migrants from entering the United States.

Thomas D. Homan, his choice for the job, served as the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement early in the administration and retired last year when his nomination for the permanent position stalled in the Senate. Since then, he has been a fierce supporter of the administration’s policies during frequent appearances on Fox News.

“He’ll be a border czar,” Mr. Trump said, announcing the appointment during a phone interview on “Fox & Friends.” “He’ll be very much involved in the border. He’ll be reporting directly to me. He’ll be probably working out of the White House but spending a lot of time at the border. And he’s a good man. He’s a good man.”

The appointment to the newly created position comes at a time when Mr. Trump has expressed deep frustration and anger at his own officials for refusing to enforce his demands to shut down the flow of immigrants across the southwestern border.

Stephen Miller, the president’s senior adviser, remains the intellectual engine behind the administration’s immigration agenda. But in Mr. Homan, the president may have finally found the ask-no-questions enforcer of the nation’s immigration laws that he has always longed for.

If he is empowered by Mr. Trump, Mr. Homan could help push the bureaucracy — including the Departments of Defense, Homeland Security, Health and Human Services and Justice — to work together more effectively to carry out the agenda that Mr. Trump and Mr. Miller have devised.

But the president risks undercutting the very officials who run those departments and are responsible for the deployment of personnel and other resources to address immigration.

“It would be a reflection of the president’s thinking that people at D.H.S. are either not doing their job or not capable,” said R. Gil Kerlikowske, who served as the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection during the Obama administration. “I think the other part is it’s a sharp stick in the eye to many members of Congress.”

In April, Mr. Trump fired Kirstjen Nielsen as secretary of homeland security after she repeatedly resisted his push to shut down the border and prevent asylum seekers from entering the United States. The president also pushed out several other top officials, including Ronald D. Vitiello, the acting head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — Mr. Homan’s former job — in a purge of his top officials.

Kevin K. McAleenan, appointed the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection by Mr. Trump in 2018, then took over as the acting secretary of homeland security, but Mr. Trump has not nominated him to permanently run the department. Mr. Homan’s appointment is likely to undercut Mr. McAleenan’s traditional role as the top official responsible for securing the border.

Mr. Vitiello said the president was not helping the Department of Homeland Security by having so many temporary leaders overseeing agencies.

“Whether it’s the department at the cabinet level or the director at ICE or the commissioner at C.B.P., having a confirmed leader, it matters,” Mr. Vitiello said. “It matters in the cabinet meeting. It matters in the interagency discussion. The sooner the work force and individuals involved know their futures are certain the better off it is for everybody.”

Mr. Homan is the third official the president has inserted into Mr. McAleenan’s territory since he became acting secretary. Last month, Mr. Trump named Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, a former attorney general of Virginia who once advocated an end to birthright citizenship, to lead the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. And Mr. Trump brought back as the head of ICE Mark Morgan, who was forced to resign as head of the Customs and Border Protection at the beginning of the Trump administration but has also made numerous appearances on Fox News praising the president’s policies.

Mr. Trump said on Friday that he was still not sure whether he would nominate Mr. McAleenan to permanently lead the Department of Homeland Security.

“McAleenan, he is doing a very nice job. We’re going to see,” Mr. Trump said. “I’ve got to get used to him. Because it’s a very important thing to me, the border. We need strong people at the border.”

Mr. Homan fits that description: Burly and blunt-spoken, he comes across on television as the former police officer that he is, focused exclusively on the need to be tough when it comes to keeping immigrants out of the country. But it is not clear what role Mr. Homan will play in developing and carrying out the president’s border policies at the White House. Mr. Miller, the president’s senior adviser and the architect of Mr. Trump’s immigration agenda, remains the most important adviser on the issue.

As a commentator on Fox, Mr. Homan supported the president’s separation of families, backed his demand for a border wall, pushed for faster deportations of undocumented immigrants, endorsed the declaration of a national emergency and broadly praised his tough messaging about the dangers of immigrants.

Those positions earned Mr. Homan the enmity of Democratic lawmakers and immigration advocates, who accused him of backing a xenophobic immigration agenda and violating the basic human rights of immigrants who have not broken any laws since illegally crossing the border.

“All the personnel reshuffling won’t make a difference unless they adopt a new strategy,” said Douglas Rivlin, the communications director for America’s Voice, a pro-immigration think tank. “Giving Homan or anyone else a new title will not change the fact that Trump is failing and floundering on immigration.”

But Mr. Homan’s supportive commentaries on Fox News endeared him even further to Mr. Trump, who said on Friday that he had planned to announce the appointment next week.

“Except I would rather announce it now,” Mr. Trump said. “He’s going to be very much involved with the border. That’s what he really wants to be involved with.”

Mr. Vitiello said having an official responsible for coordinating among different agencies with immigration duties could be beneficial for Mr. McAleenan and for the sprawling immigration bureaucracy, which often ends up fighting over who takes the lead on enforcing the administration’s policies.

Customs and Border Protection, which takes migrants into custody and processes them, and the Department of Health and Human Services, which approves the transfer of migrant children into shelters, have had a tense relationship. Immigration and Customs Enforcement is responsible for housing adults who cross the border after they are processed by Customs and Border Protection. And the Justice Department is also facing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of immigration cases, making it more difficult to efficiently process asylum cases.

“The potential to knit that together in a way that is difficult in the best of circumstances and on top of that the lack of resources, congressional action, it just makes it harder,” Mr. Vitiello said. “If that’s what the president is going to ask him to do that’s a benefit for the whole mission.”

But Mr. Kerlikowske was more skeptical.

“Especially given the issues with Stephen Miller,” he said. “Personally, if I was the commissioner, I would not be happy about that.“

He also said Mr. Trump’s comments on Friday and indecisiveness over nominating Mr. McAleenan only hurt the work at the border.

“An acting person is often seen as a person who’s just supposed to keep things together until their confirm or somebody else is confirmed,” Mr. Kerlikowske said. “And to not have the full and complete the support of the president after his really sterling reputation I think is concerning and I think it filters down to the work force.”

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